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US Environmental Record

Regulation of Mercury

Project: US Environmental Issues
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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EPA staffers are instructed by higher-ups not to analyze any mercury or carbon dioxide reduction proposals that conflict with the president’s “Clear Skies” bill or, if they do, to keep the results under wraps. For example, an alternative proposal sponsored by senators Thomas R. Carper and Lincoln Chaffee is analyzed by the EPA but its conclusions—showing that the Carper-Chaffee plan has some advantages over Clear Skies—are not released. According to one EPA staffer later interviewed by the New York Times, Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant administrator for air programs, wondered out loud during a May 2 meeting, “How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?” And in June, EPA administrator Christie Whitman sends a letter to senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, informing them that the EPA will not do economic analysis on their alternative plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they requested. Senator McCain later tells the New York Times that he did “not feel it was normal procedure to refuse to analyze a bill that is under the agency’s jurisdiction.” [New York Times, 7/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Thomas R. Carper, Jeffrey Holmstead, Joseph Lieberman, Lincoln Chaffee, Environmental Protection Agency, John McCain

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies

A White House aide tells Congress that the administration overestimated the expected reduction in mercury emissions that would result from the implementation of its “Clear Skies” plan. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003] The EPA is under court orders to finalize a mercury reduction plan, which would update the Clean Air Act, by December 15, 2003. The current version of the Clean Air Act has no provisions covering mercury, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants. [New York Times, 7/14/2003] The administration’s “Clear Skies” plan had predicted that if sulfur and nitrogen compound emissions were reduced by 70 percent in 2010 as the plan proposes, there would be a concomitant reduction in mercury pollution from coal power plants to about 26 tons a year nationally. But a revised estimate put the expected reduction between 2 and 14 tons. Since Congress’ current draft of the Clean Air Act had set a reduction target of 22 tons by 2010 based on the plan’s previous figures, energy industry lobbyists and some pro-industry senators are now arguing that the mercury reduction goal should likewise be set to a smaller amount. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Congress

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies, Key Events

EPA officials complete a draft proposal outlining plans to revise the conclusion of a court-ordered December 2000 EPA study which had determined that mercury emissions “pose significant hazards to public health and must be reduced.” As a result of the 2000 study, the agency had been ordered to propose a “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) standard for all coal-burning power plants by December 15, 2003. [Environmental Protection Agency, 12/14/2000; Environmental Protection Agency, 6/7/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003; Washington Post, 12/3/2003] But instead of complying with this mandate, the EPA’s current draft proposal on the regulation of mercury emissions attempts to modify the December 2000 conclusion claiming that it had been based on a misreading of the Clean Air Act. Citing a different provision in the Clean Air Act, the draft proposal recommends a flexible regulatory approach that is more acceptable to industry. It suggests a market-based mandatory “cap and trade” program permitting utility companies to purchase emissions “credits” from cleaner-operating utilities to meet an industry-wide standard. It is estimated that their plan would reduce mercury emissions to 34 tons a year by 2010, or about 30 percent below current levels. But this is a much higher cap than the 26-ton limit initially specified in the White House’s “Clear Skies” initiative (see June 5, 2003). The White House claims that by 2018 their “cap and trade” plan would result in a mercury emissions reduction of 70 percent, which is significantly less than the 90 percent reduction that would otherwise be achieved within 3 or 4 years, if the EPA were to keep to the original December 2000 ruling. [Associated Press, 12/2/2003; Washington Post, 12/3/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a proposed new rule, part of the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, that will ostensibly tighten regulations on allowable limits of mercury in the air. Studies show that even small amounts of mercury exposure to unborn children cause severe cognitive and developmental problems. Coal-fired plants are by far the largest emitters of mercury. But when the new regulations are actually established, they allow the coal industry to keep pumping huge amounts of mercury into the atmosphere for decades to come. It is later learned that Bush administration political appointees had pasted language into the regulations that was written by industry lobbyists. Five EPA scientists later say that the EPA had ignored the recommendations of professional staffers and an advisory panel in writing the rule. The rule, critics say, will delay reductions in mercury levels for decades, while saving the power and coal industry billions of dollars. The Bush administration chose a process that, according to Republican environmental regulator John Paul, “would support the conclusion they wanted to reach.” The panel’s 21 months of work on the issue was entirely ignored. Bruce Buckheit, the former director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, says: “There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before. A political agenda is driving the agency’s output, rather than analysis and science.” Russell Train, who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations, calls the action “outrageous.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 302-303]

Entity Tags: Russell Train, Bruce Buckheit, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Air pollution, Coal Industry, Mercury

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